Sometimes you just have to know when to call it a night, and when you suspect your equipment may be on fire is usually that moment. Fever Marlene were only part way through their set opening for the Gufs at the High Noon Saloon on Thursday when guitarist/vocalist Scott Starr's guitar began acting up.
Despite the duo's attempts to remedy the problem, and to lighten the situation -- "It's a power problem" Starr asserted, "A higher power?" drummer/vocalist Kevin Dunphy questioned -- once they saw the smoke curling out of the amp they rightly surrendered.
Fever Marlene get their puzzling moniker from the first song they ever wrote together, even before they were a band. "It's about wanting something even though you know it is bad for you," Starr explained to me after their tragically shortened set. Even though the fictional Marlene may be trouble, everything about her namesake is good.
Dunphy's angelic backing vocals and Starr's Richard Butler-esque lead make for a pretty irresistible pairing. They just finished recording their debut Civil War at E Lab Studios here in Madison and hope to be celebrating their CD release the next time they are in town (April 19 at the Orpheum with Cloud Cult).
Let's hope so, because after seeing them tonight I want those songs now. "Some Saturdays" features a bouncy tune and an irresistible chorus. "She's living on the sun/ She says I'm not the one" they repeat over and over. "When Daniel Goodings Made it Rain" could have come from a happier Psychedelic Furs if they had believed in the power of the "oooh oooh" backing vocal.
Headliner the Gufs seemed poised to be the next big thing for a number of years, even signing with Atlantic Records. After their second major label album Holiday from You fared poorly, they asked to be released from their contract. The hiatus that followed, in addition to a solo record from lead singer Goran Kralj, made it appear the band was done.
A Different Sea came out last year, and it did inject some new life into a set that hasn't changed much since I last saw them at Summerfest sometime back in the '90s. But for the most part, I felt like I could have been standing precariously on a picnic table in Milwaukee. The bulk of the songs are still drawn from just two of the band's releases, Collide and Holiday. They still inject a verse of the Police's "Walking in your Footsteps" into their own "Listen to the Trees." And they still encore with the closest thing they ever had to a hit, the admittedly catchy "Smile."
In fact, sometimes I wondered why they are still doing it, and thought maybe they don't know when to call it a night. And that's when I looked around. I was the only person not singing along to every word of every song. And maybe, even though they were playing for just a hundred people instead of thousands, that's enough.